Brussels, 24 July 2002
Stricter criteria should be applied to the granting of patents for human genes, according to a leading group of UK bio ethicists.
A discussion paper issued by the Nuffield council on bioethics argues that patents are being issued for discoveries that are not sufficiently inventive.
Patents provide exclusive rights to new inventions within a defined period of time. Patents of DNA sequences last for 20 years, during which time anyone wishing to make use of the protected invention must pay the patent owner.
The Nuffield council is concerned that, following the sequencing of the human genome, the rush to patent new genes is now a higher priority for some companies than finding out what the genes do or how they may be useful.
The authors of the report warn that under this system, the development of new tests and medicines could suffer and research could be inhibited.
Dr Sandy Thomas, the Director of the Nuffield council on bioethics, told the BBC: 'We are concerned that, for patents involving DNA, the patent system is in danger of not achieving its main goal - to stimulate innovation for the public good.'
The Nuffield council recommends that those applying for patents must be able to explain what a gene does and how it could be used. In this way, research into the application of DNA sequences, rather than their discovery alone, will be rewarded.